BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Around a hundred Barcelona residents gathered on Saturday along the Spanish city's beach to protest the unchecked growth of mass tourism to the popular vacation destination.
They argue that the influx of tourists has increased the price of rents, thereby driving longtime residents out of the city center, and driven a spike in rowdy behavior by party-seeking foreigners.
Many of the protestors from the city's waterfront neighborhood of Barceloneta wore yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan "Barceloneta isn't for sale" in Catalan. Some staked homemade signs in the sand, including a large one that read in English "We Don't Want Tourists In Our Buildings. This Is Not A Beach Resort."
As Barcelona hits its peak tourist season this month, its beach has become overrun by sunbathers. One man remained asleep on a towel while Saturday's protestors rallied just a few meters (yards) away. The protest was organized by a local residents' group under the theme "Recover the beach for everyone!"
Barcelona's town hall has responded to the tourist influx by trying to curb the growth of apartments that rented to tourists via on-line platforms like Airbnb.
Tension regarding the effects of tourism on the quality of life for locals has helped lead to an outbreak in vandalism against mass tourism in Barcelona and other parts of Spain. Radical leftists groups have stopped a sight-seeing bus tour, sabotaged rental bikes often used by tourists, and painted graffiti messages of "Tourist Go Home" on buildings across the city.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has criticized the far-left groups, saying their protest against a tourism sector that accounts of 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product was "senseless."
"I never imagined I would have to defend the tourism sector. This truly is something unheard of," Rajoy told a business meeting of a large hotel chain on Wednesday.
Lured by its mix of sunny weather, Mediterranean cuisine and culture, as well as affordable prices, Spain, a country of 46 million, received 75.3 million tourists in 2016.
More are expected for this year, after the number of arriving tourists increased by 12 percent in the first six months.